Chapter 4 | Young Robin Hood


It was a very strange life for a boy who had been accustomed to every comfort, but young Robin enjoyed it, for everything seemed to be so new and fresh, and the men treated him as if he had come to them for the purpose of being made into a pet.

They were, of course, fierce outlaws and robbers, ready to turn their bows and swords against anyone; but the poor people who lived in and about the forest liked and helped them, for Robin Hood's men never did them harm, while as to young Robin, they were all eager to take him out with them and show him the wonders of the forest.

On the second day after his arrival in the camp, the boy asked when he was to be shown the way home, and he asked again on the third day, but only to be told each time that he should go soon.

On the fourth day he forgot to ask, for he was busy with big Little John, who smiled with satisfaction when young Robin chose to stay with him instead of going with some of the men into the forest after a deer.

Young Robin forgot to ask when he was to be shown the way home, because Little John had promised to make him a bow and arrows and to teach him how to use them. The great tall outlaw kept his word too, and long before evening he hung a cap upon a broken bough of an oak tree and set young Robin to work about twenty yards away shooting arrows at the mark.

"You've got to hit that every time you shoot," said Little John; "and when you can do that at twenty yards you have got to do it at forty. Now begin."

For the bow was ready and made of a piece of yew, and half a dozen arrows had been finished.

"Think you can hit it?" said Little John, after showing the boy how to string his bow and fit the notch of the arrow to the string.

"Oh! yes," said Robin confidently.

"That's right! then you will soon be able to kill a deer."

"But I don't want to kill a deer," said the boy. "I want to see some, but I shouldn't like to kill one."

"Wait till you're hungry, my fine fellow," said Little John, laughing. "But my word! you look fine this morning; just like one of us. Did Maid Marian make you that green jerkin?"

"Yes," said the boy.

"That's right; so's your cap and feather. But now then, try if you can hit the cap. Draw the arrow right to the head before you let it go. My word, what funny little fumbling fingers yours are!"

"Are they?" cried Robin, who thought that his teacher's hands were the biggest he had ever seen.

"Like babies' fingers," said Little John, smiling down at the boy as if very much amused. "Now then, draw right to the head."

"I can't," said the boy; "it's so hard."

"That's because you are not used to it, little one. Try again. Hold tight, and pull hard. Steadily. That's the way. Now loose it and let it go."

Young Robin did as he was told, and away went the arrow down between the trees, to fall with its feathered wings just showing above the fallen leaves.

"That didn't hit the cap," said Little John. "Never went near."

Young Robin shook his head.

"Did you look at the cap when you loosed the arrow?"

"No," said Robin; "I shut my eyes."

"Try again then, and keep them open."

Robin tried and tried again till he had sent off all six of his shafts, and then he stood and looked up at Little John, and Little John looked down at him.

"You couldn't kill a deer for dinner to-day," said the big fellow.

"No," said young Robin; "it's so hard. Could you have hit it?"

"I think I could if I stood ten times as far away," said the great fellow quietly.

"Oh, do try, please," cried Robin.

"Very well; only let's pick up your arrows first, or we may lose some of them. Always pick up your arrows while they are fresh--I mean, while you can remember where they are."

The shafts were picked up, mostly by Little John, whose eyes were very sharp at seeing where the little arrows lay; and then they walked back, and Robin had to run by his big companion's side, for he began to stride away, counting as he went, till he had taken two hundred steps from the tree all along one of the alleys of the forest, when he stopped short.

"Now then, my little bowman," he said; "think I can hit the mark now?"

"No," said Robin decisively; "we're too far away. I can hardly see the cap."

"Well, let's try," said Little John, stringing his bow, and then carefully selecting an arrow from the quiver at his back. This arrow he drew two or three times through his hand so as to smooth the feathering and make the web lie straight, before fitting the notch to the string.

"So you think it's too far?" said Little John.

"Yes, ever so much."

"Ah, well, we'll try," said the big fellow coolly. "Where-about shall I hit the cap--in the middle?"

[Illustration: "Ah, well, we'll try," said Little John. "Whereabouts shall I hit the cap?"]

"No," said Robin; "just at the top of the brim."

"Very well," said the big fellow, standing up very straight and rather sidewise, as he held his bow at his left arm's length, slowly drew the arrow to the head, and then as Robin gazed in the direction of the indistinctly seen hat hanging on the tree-trunk--


The arrow had been loosed, and the bow had given forth a strange deep musical sound.

Robin looked sharply at Little John, and the big outlaw looked down at him.

"Where did that arrow go?" said the boy.

"Let's see," said Little John.

"I don't think we shall ever find it again," continued Robin.

They walked back, the outlaw very slowly, and Robin quite fast so as to keep up with him.

"Perhaps not," said Little John, "but I don't often lose my arrows."

"This one has gone right through the ferns," thought Robin, and he felt glad with the thought of the big fellow having missed the mark, but as they walked nearer, he kept his eyes fixed upon the great trunk dimly seen in the shade, being tripped up twice by the bracken fronds; but he saved himself from a fall and watched the tree trunk still, while the hat hanging on the old bough grew plainer, just as it had been before.

They had walked back nearly three parts of the way when Robin suddenly saw something which made him start, for there was a tiny bit of something white above something dark, and those marks were not on the brim of the hat before.

The next minute Robin's eyes began to open wider, for he knew that he was looking at the feathered end of the arrow, pointing straight at him; and directly after, as he stepped a little on one side to avoid an ant-hill, he could see the whole of the arrow except the point, which had passed through the brim of the hat.

"Why, you hit it!" he cried excitedly.

"Well, that's what I tried to do," said Little John.

"But you hit it just in the place I said."

"Yes, you told me to," said Little John, smiling. "That's how you must learn to shoot when you grow up to be a man."

Young Robin said nothing, but stood rubbing one ear very gently, and staring at the hat.

"Well," said Little John, smiling down at his companion, "what are you thinking about?"

"I was thinking that it is very wonderful for you to stand so far off and shoot like that."

"Were you, now?" said Little John. "Well, it is not wonderful at all. If you keep on trying for years you will be able to do it quite as well. I'll teach you. Shall I?"

"I should like you to," said Robin, shaking his head; "but I can't stop here. I must go home to my father."

"Oh! must you?" said Little John. "Go home to your father and mother, eh?"

Robin shook his head.

"No," he said; "my mother's dead, and I live sometimes with father and sometimes with aunt. I am going home to father now, as soon as you show me the way. When are you going to show me?"

Little John screwed up his face till it was full of wrinkles. "Ah," he said, "I don't know. You must ask the captain."

"Who is the captain?" said the boy.

"Eh? Why, Robin Hood, of course. But I wouldn't ask him just yet."

"Why not?"

"Eh? Why not? Because it might be awkward. You see, it's a long way, and you couldn't go by yourself."

"Well, you could show me," said young Robin. "You would, wouldn't you?"

"I would if I could," said Little John; "but I'm afraid I couldn't."

"Oh! you could, I'm sure," said young Robin. "You're so big."

"Oh! yes, I'm big enough," said Little John, laughing; "but if I were to take you home your father would not let me come back again; and besides, the captain would not let me go for fear that I should be killed."

"Killed?" said the boy, staring at his big companion.

"Why, who would kill you?"

"Your father, perhaps."

"What, for being kind to me?"

"I can't explain all these things to you, mite. Here's someone coming. Let's ask him. Hi! Captain! Young squire wants me to take him home."

Robin Hood, who had just caught sight of the pair and come up, smiled and shook his head.

"Not yet, little one," he said. "I can't spare big Little John. Why, aren't you happy here in the merry greenwood under the trees? I thought you liked us."

"So I do," said young Robin, "and I should like to stay ever so long and watch the deer and the birds, and learn to shoot with my bow and arrows."

"That's right. Well said, little one," cried Robin Hood, patting the boy on the head.

"But I'm afraid that my father will be very cross if I don't try to go home."

"Then try and make yourself happy, my boy," said Robin Hood, "for you have tried hard to go home, and you cannot go."

"Why?" said young Robin.

"For a dozen reasons," said the outlaw, smiling. "Here are some: you could not find your way; you would starve to death in the forest; you might meet people who would behave worse to you than the young swineherd, or encounter wild beasts; then, biggest reason of all: I will not let you go."

Young Robin was silent for a moment or two, and then he said quickly:

"You might tell Little John to take me home. My father would be so glad to see him."

Robin Hood and the big fellow just named looked at one another and laughed.

"Yes," said Robin Hood, patting the boy on the shoulder, "now that's just it. Your father, the Sheriff, would be so glad to see Little John that he would keep him altogether; and I can't spare him."

"I don't think my father would be so unkind," said Robin.

"But I am sure he would, little man," said the outlaw. "He'd be so glad to get him that he would spoil him. Eh, John? What do you think?"

"Ay, that he would," said Little John, shaking his head. "He'd be sure to spoil me. He'd cut me shorter, perhaps, or else hang me up for an ornament. No, my little man, I couldn't take you home."

"There," said the outlaw, smiling; "you must wait, my boy. Try and be contented as you are. Maid Marian's very kind to you, is she not?"

"Oh! yes," cried the boy, with his face lighting up, "and that's why I don't want to go."

"Hullo!" growled Little John. "Why, you said just now that you did want to go!" "Did I?" said the boy thoughtfully.

"To be sure you did. What do you mean."

"I mean," said the boy, looking wistfully from one to the other, "that I feel as if I ought to go home, but I think I should like to stay."

"Hurrah!" cried Little John, taking off and waving his hat. "Hear that, captain? You've got another to add to your merry men. Young Robin and I make a capital pair. Come along, youngster, and let's practise shooting at the mark, and then we'll make enough arrows to fill your quiver."

Five minutes later young Robin was standing as he had been placed by his big companion, who sat down and watched him while he sturdily drew the notch of his arrow right to his ear, and then loosed the whizzing shaft to go flying away through the woodland shade, while Little John shouted as gleefully as some big boy.

"Hurrah! Well done, little one! There it is, sticking in yonder tree."